PORTLAND – Voicing regret and disappointment, the school board voted to eliminate 12 teaching positions, three elementary school assistant principals and two high school assistant principals.

They were the first of what will ultimately be about 49 full-time position cuts in the district, but the board’s vote isn’t required for all of the cuts.

Several employees facing layoffs were in the audience.

“It’s all so incredibly sad,” said Ann Hanna, whose job as assistant principal at Ocean Avenue Elementary School was eliminated. She has worked in the district for more than 22 years, but doesn’t retain seniority because she took the administrative job.

“I’m surprised and saddened to be here,” Hanna told the board during a public comment period. “I never expected that, by volunteering to do more, that I would be putting my job security at risk.”

Going around the table, the board members said they were very unhappy with the layoffs.

“This is not a budget that anyone on the board feels good about,” said member Laurie Davis. “We have to make choices that are not pleasant and that are not in the best interest of the district.”

“I wish it could have worked out differently,” said board member Kate Snyder. “But knowing where we are, I do believe, unfortunately, it is where we have to go.”

The cuts were approved 8-1, with Holly Seeliger casting the lone “no” vote.

“I’m not really interested in being a rubber stamp,” Seeliger said. “I’m disappointed that we couldn’t have been more creative with the budget.”

One of the positions cut Tuesday night — assistant principal of Hall Elementary School — is held by Gloria Noyes, the 2009 Maine Teacher of the Year.

“This should not happen,” said Casco Bay High School Principal Derek Pierce.

“We risk driving quality leaders out of the district. Who would want to join a district that lets go a Teacher of the Year?”

There is still some chance that at least some of the cuts can be avoided.

Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk said district officials were continuing to meet with the teachers union, and several board members said they hoped the talks could limit the layoffs.

“I’m going to trust that there can be some shared solutions to restoring these positions,” Snyder said.

The budget cuts 32.6 teaching positions. The board had to vote Tuesday night on that group of positions because they are teachers and principals covered by union contracts that have 90-day notice of layoffs.

Other union-covered cuts, such as for ed techs, have a shorter notice requirement and do not require a board vote.

About two dozen people attended the meeting, several speaking out against the cuts.

“I am sad and disappointed that our district, unlike other districts in Maine, is not able to see how important librarians are to our district,” said Ocean Avenue librarian Kathy Hanley, who lost her job in the Tuesday vote.

One kindergarten teacher at Ocean Avenue held up posters made by the students to save Hanna’s job.

“It is heartbreaking,” Lisa Crowley said, holding up the posters. “There’s tons of kids that love this vice principal. Not a vice principal. This vice principal.”

Portland voters overwhelmingly passed a $96.4 million school budget earlier this month, but it does not account for possible cuts in state funding, including a proposal by Gov. Paul LePage to shift $1.3 million in teachers’ retirement contributions from the state to the school district. If the cuts are adopted by the Legislature, Portland will have to revise its budget and make even more cuts.

Caron and Justin Costa, who is chairman of the board’s finance committee, noted that uncertainty in state funding.

“What hangs over us is some specter of changes of the state level,” Caron said. “I hope we get the money we are counting on.”

The budget for the year starting July 1 will increase the schools’ portion of Portland’s property tax rate by 3 percent, adding $58 to the annual tax bill for a home with an assessed value of $200,000.

There was considerable discussion of why the district was not offering a retirement incentive this year, which is has for the past nine years.

Portland Education Association President Kathleen Casasa said 35 people are ready to resign immediately if it were offered. In all, 106 employees are age-eligible — 62 years old — and service eligible, Casasa said.

“See if there is a way to dig your way out of this hole,” Casasa said.

Chief Financial Officer Michael Wilson told the board the district isn’t offering the incentive because it incurs ongoing costs for the district and has muddled what would be the natural attrition rate. Because the district carries the medical costs for years, it costs about $20,000 or more per retiree each year, he said.

This year’s budget pays out about $500,000 to cover the costs of previously approved early retirements, he said.

“That’s two or three teachers that could be hired,” he said.

Also Tuesday, the board voted 8-1 to start school this fall on Wednesday, September 4, to avoid having the first day of school fall on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.

Board member Elizabeth Brooks said she voted against it because the change was made to accommodate a single religion and she felt that was inappropriate, particularly given how many religions are represented in the schools. Student board member Madeline Holton also voted against the measure.

Students will attend class on Wednesday and Thursday, and have Friday off that week.

The board also voted to create a 13-member budget and revenue task force, which will explore and launch fundraising efforts to assist the district.

“I’m strongly in favor of this,” said Caron, noting that the hope is to create a new revenue stream for the district.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

[email protected]